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Part Time Lover: Reel-to-Reel, Klipschorns, and Vinyl in San Diego’s North Park
The spacious North Park listening bar / lounge features four Klipschorns and two reel-to-reel tape machines.
A few months ago, we took the Pacific Surfliner down the coast to visit one of San Diego’s newest hi-fi bars, Part Time Lover (named after Stevie Wonder’s 1985 hit single). Substantially larger than any listening bar we’d ever been to, the 3,000 sq. ft. space featured a wide array of lounge seating, a full bar stretching across the room, four Klipschorns, two reel-to-reels, a dedicated DJ booth complete with vacuum-powered cleaner, and a record store operating as the satellite location of the legendary Folk Arts Rare Records, one of the oldest record stores in the United States. We arrived late afternoon on a Saturday, just after the bar opened, and the place was already packed with people joyfully conversing over mellow ambient and indie rock.
A collaborative project, Part Time Lover was made possible by the combined efforts of hospitality group CH Projects, Folk Arts Rare Records, and audio design firm Uncanned Music. Designed like a “dream living room,” the space features a warm and lively east-meets-west aesthetic inspired by the early 20th century American Prairie School architectural style with bar and table lamps custom made by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. During the day, record store employees play selections available for sale in the store, and at night, local and visiting DJ’s take over to soundtrack the bar with eclectic sounds ranging from jazz and oldies to disco, reggae, and beyond.
After spending a wonderful night of listening + Japanese hi-balls at Part Time Lover, we reached out to the team behind it to learn more about the project. Below, a short interview with Brendan Boyle of Folk Arts Rare Records, Brian Eastman of CH Projects, and members of Uncanned Music.
Hello Part Time Lover crew! Walking into PTL felt like entering into another world. Can you talk about the inspirations behind opening the space and how Japanese kissa culture is incorporated into the concept?
We also love the otherworldly nature of this unique space. Early in the day it’s especially fun to hear Ambient, Modern Composition, Art music, Soundtracks and other experiential sounds. We adore the Japanese kissa concept of “the listening bar.” We encourage our guest selectors to DJ as they see fit, with the green light to “let it breathe” as well.
The design of the bar is gorgeous and seems to mix together a lot of different influences from both Japanese and American architecture. Who designed the bar and can you share a few of the notable elements of the space?
The bar was brilliantly designed by Taylor Leage, who heads CH Projects’ Department of Interior Team. Their attention to detail and finished product is wildly impressive. Highlights of the interior space include the acoustics, the ornate columns & the Japanese-inspired lamps.
Part Time Lover is in many ways powered by the legendary Folk Arts Rare Records store. How did that collaboration come together and how is Folks Arts involved creatively?
Brendan (Folk Arts): CH Projects’ Arsalun Tafazoli reached out to me in 2020. He clearly had a vision to build something unique for the community of San Diego. Folk Arts has our satellite store in this space, and we curate all of the guest selectors that come in to spin. Between 4pm-10pm or 4pm-8pm seven days a week, we’re creatively spinning “sides for sale” at PTL. Our store is dope too. We operate in a DIY style, adding new titles every day of the week.
We love that there’s a Folk Arts record shop inside of the bar. Can you recommend five records that are currently available in store?
Brendan: There are too many great ones but here are five, in no particular order:
Yusef Lateef – Jazz Mood (1957)
I’m convinced this brilliant LP was a big influence on Sun Ra. One of five albums that Lateef released in 1957. Amazing.
Kei Miho & Jazz Eleven – Kokezaru Suite (1971)
1970’s avant-garde Japanese Jazz with all of the right bluesy & woozy touches.
John Compton – To Luna (1973)
Chilled out, barefoot, west coast vibes from one half of Compton & Batteau.
Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou – Spielt Eigene Kompositionen (1967)
These otherworldly piano recordings by this legendary Ethiopian nun have served as a bit of a de facto soundtrack for this space. It never gets old…
Ethel Ennis – Lullaby for Losers (1955)
Being in the record business, you sometimes ask yourself, “How is this exceptional record still here?” This is the best sounding album in our repertoire. It always elicits an enthusiastic reaction from patrons.
Of course, I have to ask about the soundsystem. I noticed reel-to-reels are part of the setup? Who designed the system and what are the components (builders, parts, brands)?
The soundsystem was brilliantly designed by Uncanned Music. Tons of work was put in by these pros to make sure this system was set up right and it absolutely shows. The sound at PTL is about as good as it gets. People have described the experience to me as a ‘sound sauna’. The components are:
- 1 x Vintage McIntosh MC2100
- 2 x McIntosh MC275 MKVI
- 4 x Klipschorn speakers
- 2 x Heresy speakers
- 2 x Otari MX50II Reel-to-Reel Tape Machines
- 2 x Technics 1200’s
- 1 x Condesa Lucia rotary mixer.
Uncanned designed a thing of true beauty.
I loved the diverse (and affordable) selection of highballs on the menu. What was the inspiration behind the drink menu?
Brian Eastman (C.H. Projects): The highballs speak to the simplicity and minimalism of the Japanese listening bar experience. Simple, thoughtful cocktails with quality ingredients meant to be enjoyed over an immersive visit to the space.
There seems to be a youthful openness bubbling in San Diego. How has the response been to Part Time Lover and other new bars opening up recently like Goto Convoy music bar and Longplay HiFi?
People in San Diego are certainly hungry for a unique, positive experience. I think all of the listening bars in town provide an alternative, more open minded way for people to connect. These spots aren’t conventional “party” places but rather nightlife destinations that embrace a slow, spontaneous & joyful energy.
What’s coming up next for the bar? I’ve noticed the booking keeps getting better with incredible locals plus guests from around the world.
We hope for the programming at PTL to continue to get more eclectic & diverse into the future. It’s already been quite the ride. Our motivation is fueled by all of the positive experiences PTL has created for San Diego, and there’s most certainly quite a lot of excitement on the horizon.
Read our article on Listening Bars Around the World: https://insheepsclothinghifi.com/isc-guide-listening-bars/
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